Members of the Blue Springs High School defensive secondary are as diverse as they are talented.
Stephen Benson is the shutdown corner, the mouth that roared. Keith McFarlane rarely says a word, but speaks volumes on the playing field.
Jackson Blauw is the heavy hitter who always seems to come up with the big play and Mason Dunn is the king of swag, who never backs down from a challenge.
“They’re as tight knit and competitive as any backfield I’ve ever coached,” Wildcats secondary coach Matt Marble, who was flagged for a 15-yard penalty earlier this season when he got so excited following a big interception that he unconsciously ran out onto the field, said as the team prepared for tonight’s Class 6 Show-Me Bowl state championship game against Kirkwood in Columbia..
“I love all the guys I’ve coached, but there is something special about this group – they come to my house for our Thursday night meal and talk trash on each other, play video games and have a lot of fun.
“But when it’s time to get serious, they get serious and get ready for the game. And they have each other’s backs. That’s what I really like about them – they are totally different when it comes to personalities, but all focused on one goal and that’s winning state on Friday.”
Benson (5-foot-9, 183 pounds) is among the best shutdown corners in the state, but he started the season on the sidelines because of a brief moment of disrespect with a teacher.
“That was totally my fault, my bad, and it might have been the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Benson, who has 45 tackles, three interceptions and a big pick-six in a 35-17 victory over Blue Springs South, in which Blauw and he combined for back-to-back interceptions returned for a touchdown.
“I started the season watching my boys play and now, we’re in the big game, and that has been my dream – it’s been a dream for all of us – ever since we started playing football in little league. My coaches, my teammates all had my back.
“Coach D (head coach Kelly Donohoe) looks out for me and (former Blue Springs all-state wide receiver who is now an assistant coach) Keeston Terry has become a mentor. I have a lot of people on my side and I love every one of them.”
As he speaks from the heart, his fellow defensive backs nod in agreement.
“I don’t get the chance start if Stephen doesn’t play in that first game,” said the soft-spoken McFarlane (5-11, 165), who has 30 tackles and two interceptions, including a big theft in the opening game against Lee’s Summit with Benson on the sidelines.
“My man, my man got that pick and looked so good out there,” Benson is quick to add. “He had eight tackles, too. He proved he belonged!”
Dunn (5-7, 170) is the self-described “ladies man” of the group. His swagger goes beyond the playing field, as he started the season with a dramatic hair style that featured a series of beads.
“Hate from the dudes, love from the ladies,” Dunn said, as his teammates howled in laughter. “I have a little bit of swag ...”
A wide-eyed Benson interrupts, “A LITTLE!?!”
Dunn doesn’t skip a beat.
“Well, I have a lot of swag, but come on, the ladies love it. And I have to please the ladies.”
Dunn is actually playing a role. The beads are done, his haircut could now be found on a Navy Seal and he’s working as hard as anyone on the team to get ready for today’s 7 p.m. championship game at Faurot Field.
“I’m 5-foot-7,” he said, with a chuckle, “I’m the guy I’d see on tape and say, ‘That’s who we’re going after.’ And when they do, I shut them down. We all shut them down. Look at who we’ve played this year, we’ve shut down some of the best defenses in the state and now we have our biggest challenge against Kirkwood and we’re working so hard to shut them down, too.”
As his teammates talk about this season, Blauw (5-11, 175) quietly takes it all in.
He’s the defensive jackhammer on the team. He leads the secondary with 75 tackles and four interceptions.
“He’s a safety,” Donohoe said, “who hits like a middle linebacker. If someone breaks through our front four and linebacking corps and gets hit by Jackson, they remember it.”
Blauw single-handedly turned a 35-17 win over Blue Springs South around with a dramatic interception return for a score.
South had the ball on its 6-yard line of a 17-10 game. Blauw picked off a pass and returned it 99 yards for the touchdown. On the Jaguars’ next pass, Benson had a 35-yard pick-six, and the rout was on.
“That’s a moment I’ll never forget,” said Blauw. “That’s what our defense has done all season. We make a big play, then turn it over to the offense and they reward us with a big score.
“We’re a family, and the secondary is a family within our Wildcats family. We are there for each other on and off the field and I think that’s a big reason we’ve been so successful.”
Dunn actually is second in the secondary with 50 tackles and has one interception. In that win over South, he recovered a late fumble, and quipped, “I didn’t want to steal the spotlight from Stephen and Jackson so I didn’t return it for a touchdown.”
He has the comedic timing of Louis CK and the football IQ of Eric Berry – not a bad combination.
“Our secondary, you want to know something about our secondary?” Donohoe said before a recent practice session. “Well, we have to start with our swag master, Mr. Dunn. He’s a special player.
“You see him on film and think that’s the guy we’re going to attack, and he makes you pay for that mistake.
“Jackson just kind of came out of nowhere and became a big stud in the secondary. Like I said before, he hits like a linebacker and he’s a smart football player. They all have that high football IQ, which is another reason they are so successful.
“Keith is a kid we didn’t really even know about until this season – so quiet, he’d never really made an impact until he got the chance to play that first game and he earned a starting spot. He was an impact player in that game.
“And Stephen, we love Stephen at Blue Springs High School. He’ll come up to me and ask who our opponent’s best player is and then he’ll say, ‘I want him Coach, I’ll shut him down.’ And he has all season.
“I’ve never seen a player grow up more in one season than Stephen has. He is a man, a man we all respect and I know how much he cares for this team, his teammates and our coaches. And that’s what I love about this team, and the game of football.
“You see kids become men, and that is certainly the case with Stephen. We still have talk to him on occasion about talking a little bit too much, but he’s got that under control for the most part. It’s just who he is – an excitable guy who gets it done on the field and who fires up the guys on the sidelines.
“He’s just so passionate, and that’s why we all love him.”